Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Old Age

by Richard Crews
Over the past century the life expectancy for middle-class Americans has gone up by about 30 years.

We are the first generation in the history of humanity that, with average luck and self-care, has a good chance of living to be 90.

Of course, just like the genetic lottery that gave us good biological equipment and the lottery of history that put us down in this time and place, the daily lotteries of circumstance are always circling overhead.

Each day Death casts its dice--and all must play,
Though those in health and youthful vigor may
Not feel the chill or hear the distant cry
Of who may live today--and who must die.

But as we round 60, with honest self-contemplation, we suspect--
we will probably never have a more intense relationship than we have had
we will probably never feel more pain, physically or emotionally, than we have felt
we will probably never be smarter, richer, or more influential than we have been
we will probably never be stronger, more robust, or more durable than we have been
we will probably never climb a higher mountain, see a richer sunset, taste a better wine,
hear a more poignant melody, see a more touching drama....

Is this to be a time of depression and despair? Or a time of calmness and relief?

We have been given no road-map to navigate this land. It is a new land; humanity has never had this in its temporal landscape before.

We do know that maintaining a careful diet is no longer optional. Oh, remember those joyous days when nothing was too sweet or salty, too heavy with calories or cholesterol to keep us from giving it a try!

The same is true of exercise. We learn that our bodies do not serve us well if we do not stretch and tire them out a bit faithfully, day by day.

And relationships? They are important, too. But we come to realize that death is always and only a private experience--a solo flight; no one can truly share it with us.

Eric Erikson called the stage of psychosocial development of the grandparent years "generativity"--a time to give back; a time to establish and guide the next generation.

Most compellingly, it is a "new" time. Let us think about it and begin to chart it wisely for the generations who come after us.